BLESSED CHARLES DE FOUCAULD
16. “Set Apart for the Gospel”
THIS summer, La Croix dedicated a series of articles to Father de Foucauld with a view to preparing people for his beatification next 13 November. « Why has the cause for beatification been so delayed? Perhaps because those who claim to be his followers, notably the ten religious congregations and the associations of spiritual life that claim to follow or be inspired by him, won over in turn by humility, did not attach special importance to it. »
Here is an example of the so-called « humility » of these alleged disciples of the future blessed: « Like Teresa, one of the three Little Sisters of Jesus presently at Nazareth, who has for more than forty years, shown an immense devotedness to the service of the most poor: “ Whether he is a made a saint or not, she says, is of no importance. For me, he has been a saint for a long time. It will change nothing. » (La Croix. Monday, 25 July)
Well! for us it is quite the opposite. Ever since Father de Nantes, our Founder, gave Charles de Foucauld as a protector to our congregation and as a patron to our Phalange, we have been awaiting the judgement of the Church, which, by raising him to the altars, will prove our Father right for having chosen him as a model, and for having imitated him as closely as possible, as we will demonstrate in a future article, if God so wills.
Pope Benedict XVI had decided that beatifications would no longer be celebrated at Rome, but in the native dioceses of the new blesseds. If he makes an exception for Father de Foucauld, a relic of whom has already been reserved for him, the reason for this special devotion touches us all the more because it is closely akin to the thought of our Father.
When he preached to us our annual community retreat on Father de Foucauld (S 31, Autumn 1976, 15 cassettes, 15 hours), Father Ratzinger, the future Archbishop of Munich, wrote:
« At a time when most Christians are forced to live in a “ Galilee of the Gentiles ”, the Great Church can neither grow or prosper if we allow her to remain unaware that her roots are found hidden in the atmosphere of Nazareth. »
Now, for this revelation, « precisely at the moment when sentimentalism surrounding Nazareth was flourishing, the true mystery of Nazareth was discovered in a new manner in its deepest meaning without people of our times even noticing it. It was Charles de Foucauld who, in seeking the “ lowest place ”, found Nazareth. During his pilgrimage in the Holy Land, it is the place that marked him the most. »
Then quoting the words of Jesus: « When you are invited, go and take the lowest place », the Father continued by stating that Charles de Foucauld had understood this: « Jesus Himself had given the explanation of these words by living them first of all; he knew that, even before having died on the cross, naked and without the slightest possession, Jesus had chosen at Nazareth the lowest place. »
Charles de Foucauld did likewise by entering the Trappist Order at Notre-Dame des Neiges in 1890, then by burying himself in « an even poorer Trappist monastery, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart » in Syria. This is when, Father Ratzinger wrote, that Charles de Foucauld « encountered the true “historical Jesus” », at the time when Modernists were attempting to distinguish Him from the “Jesus of the Faith”:
« Brother Charles, in his Syrian Trappist monastery, knew nothing about this. By entering into the experience of Nazareth, however, he learned more than this scholarly discussion could bring to light. There, in living meditation on Jesus, and thus a new way for the Church was thereby opened. »
This was not a passing “fashion” as would be, for example the unfortunate experience of worker priests, but « a rediscovery of poverty ». For Father Ratzinger, Charles de Foucauld teaches us that « the New Covenant does not begin in the Temple, nor on the Holy Mountain, but in the small abode of the Virgin Mary, in the house of the worker (St. Joseph), in one of the forgotten places of “Galilee of the Gentiles”, from which no one expected any good. It is only from that point that the Church can make a new start and be cured. » The emphasis is ours. So in 1976 Father Ratzinger considered the Church to be ill?... Yes indeed! and the world likewise. This is why « she could never provide the true response to the rebellion of our century against power and wealth, if Nazareth is not a living reality. » (Joseph Ratzinger, The God of Jesus Christ, Fayard, 1977)
THIS SAINT IS OURS
Let us continue our reading of the inquiry of La Croix:
« The other reason for the delay in the beatification of Father de Foucauld probably stems from his controversial personality, from his youthful misdemeanours and his attitude at the end of his life. » Indeed, much more serious than the escapades of « a former reveller, who during a few years of his life focused his attention on alcohol and women », there are « his relations with the French army in its colonial advance in Southern Algeria. It was also necessary to examine closely many of his incendiary and vengeful letters against the Germans. »
« How could such a generous man write such aggressive letters? A few weeks before dying, so peaceable a person as the Brother of Tamanrasset wrote in 1915 [thus, it is at least fifty weeks before dying, is it not?] to the Mother Abbess of Nazareth concerning the war with Germany: “ This war is a Crusade against a pagan barbarity that wants to annihilate the Church. God is using the eldest daughter of His Church and her allies to defend Christian morality, the Christian spirit against German paganism and barbarity.” » Dominique Gerbaud chokes with indignation: « The originals of the letters written in small characters, on squared paper, are presently in the bottom of a trunk in the Poor Clare abbey in Nazareth. Charles de Foucauld also wrote that the war against Germany would be “ long and hard, but we will be victorious.” » In this he shows himself to be a good prophet, does he not? « In his eyes, God wanted this war against Germany, and he longed to go help his military colleagues in order to participate in “ crushing Germany completely ”. He, the gentle one, was becoming a warrior. » Let us point out that in this he resembles St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus: « In my soul, I feel the courage of a Crusader, of a Pontifical Zouave; I would like to die on a battlefield in defence of the Church... »
It is understandable that our Christian Democrat, Europeanist and pacifist leaders are reluctant to beatify him! Remember as well that these very same people did not hesitate to throw us into a total war in 1939 against Germany in a “ crusade of democracies” for the benefit of Stalin, who was its great victor.
So if we have to choose between one “Crusade” and the other, I prefer that of St. Thérèse and Charles de Foucauld.
Today, the judgement of the Church resolves the question: the Servant of God Charles de Foucauld had the spirit of Jesus Christ. We can see the hand of Providence in the delay made to his beatification. In 1976, at the end of the reign of Paul VI, Father de Nantes wrote: « We ourselves would rather that this liberal, democratic Pope, the anti-colonialist and flatterer of Islam as of Judaism, not beatify and canonise Father Charles de Foucauld. He would only do with Father Charles what he has just done with Blessed John Ogilvie, a martyr of the Protestant persecution in Scotland. In canonising St. John Ogilvie on 11 October 1976, the Pope made him a precursor of Vatican II and a witness, up to the point of shedding his blood, not to the Catholic Faith and the Roman Church but to Human Rights and Religious Liberty! In thus crowing Father de Foucauld, the Pope would martyr him a second time. »
This is why the hand of Providence must be seen in the death of John Paul II, who was prevented, in extremis, from carrying out this beatification. Whereas it is given to our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to fulfil the wishes of Father de Nantes, our Founder and Superior, who declared in the conclusion of his grand, annual public meeting at the “Mutualité” conference hall on Saturday, 13 November 1976:
« Father de Foucauld is reserved for the future. It falls to us to keep him intact and to relive his message to the full until victory has been won and peace restored in the Church as well as in France, and until the colonial Empire has been converted, which is what he prophesied. These are the reasons that he shed his blood. Like St. Joan of Arc and St. Louis, dying in Tunis, Father de Foucauld is a son of France as well as a child of the Church. The honours of beatification and the Gloria Bernini will be for other times, those of the Great Pope and of the Great King, so long foretold in the many prophecies of the little people of France. »(CCR no 86, December, p. 21)
Already a « great Pope » has been given to us, disposed to inherit the legacy of a great saint to the advantage of the whole Church:
« What the Hermit of the Hoggar has passed on to us as a spiritual and temporal testament is a renewed love for the old secular order that we must resume beyond the aberrations and revolutionary principles of the modern world. We must do this not only for our own security, peace and happiness, but in order to extend this incomparable benefit to our fellow men, to the Muslims and pagans of our colonies and out to the most deprived and abandoned of infidels. But if we renounce our own heritage, how can we carry Christ to the world?, The Church of our time has foolishly wagered our heritage with no other result than the ruin of French secular, political order, which was the bearer of human civilisation, and in so doing incites her own ruin soon.
« “Never back!” is Father de Foucauld’s call to us in the fight. But his new vocation as “ universal brother” gives us the meaning and the measure of this combat. It is Christian combat, a Crusade so that all peoples may enter into the blessed inheritance of the Love of Jesus. (ibid.)
I. JESUS ALONE
In the third section of its inquiry, La Croix quotes a Little Sister of Jesus, Sr. Lucile with the « radiant smile »: « When I was in Nazareth, she declared, and we had pilgrims enter into the little chapel where Brother Charles used to pray, it was not to speak about him but to find Jesus »
This is really to be unaware of the particular and truly mystical grace of Father de Foucauld, which is to offer a perfect imitation of Jesus, lived « by walking in the footsteps of “ the mysteries of the life of Jesus ” », as Benedict XVI says, in such a way that to « speak about him » is to « find Jesus ». His life recapitulates, in an incredible way in the history of the Church, the main stages of the life of Our Lord, thus presenting a marvellous illustration of the Gospel:
“Imitation is inseparable from love, he used to say. Whoever loves wants to imitate: that is the secret of my life. I lost my heart to this Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified 1900 years ago, and I spend my life seeking to imitate Him as much as my weakness permits.” »
Wanting to « proclaim the Gospel » with his whole life, Father de Foucauld did not even realise to what extent this grace had been granted to him. He did not compose a programme according to the Gospel to go, step by step, from one stage to the next. No! He was so absorbed by the inspirations of the moment that controlled his decisions, that the stages of his life followed one another in an order that he himself did not perceive, but that we discover with astonishment, as a literal evangelical itinerary, and therefore as an ideal mystical itinerary!
THE OLD TESTAMENT
Like Mary Magdalene, like so many others, Charles de Foucauld experienced the tragedy of the prodigal son. He lived the experience of Israel, chosen by God, privileged, then unfaithful, fallen and miserable in its crimes. In this, he does not yet resemble Jesus, but Adam, Abraham, David, whose supernatural experiences the Old Testament reveals.
Some great saints were spared, through grace, such a cruel adventure: the Virgin Mary, St. John, St. Bernard, St. John of the Cross, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Others, on the other hand, lived it to the full, this dreadful, this bitter experience of infidelity, illustrating in their manner, the misery of man and the infinite, merciful love of Our Saviour: St. Mary Magdalene, the penitent, for whom Father de Foucauld had such a tender devotion, St. Paul perhaps, St. Augustine assuredly...
« At the age of seventeen, I was all egoism, all impiety and desire for evil ; I was as though in a state of turmoil. »
It sounds like the vehement criticism of the prophets against Israel worsened by the complete blindness of someone who has turned his back to God:
« When I was living even worse, I was convinced that it was in the order of things and that my life was perfect. » (to Marie de Bondy, 4 December 1895)
The conformity with the experience of rebellious, unsatisfied, languid and finally miserable Israel, is impressive: « I did evil, but I neither approved nor liked it... You made me feel a painful emptiness, a sadness that I had never experienced until then. »
The time of trial came. The life of Charles de Foucauld is obviously a summary of the entire history of Israel! Providential events brought about the purification of his heart, the liberation from the slavery of the world and the senses, and finally the search for God. This period corresponds to the one in the Old Testament that goes from the Exile to the time of Christ. God awaits the return of the unfaithful: « Do not rouse, do not awaken my beloved before she pleases! » (Sg 2.7)
This refrain from the Song of Songs shows Israel –unhappy, fallen from her throne, from her glory, deprived of all her possessions – delaying her conversion,:
« I began going to church without believing, finding myself at ease only there, and I would spend long hours repeating this strange prayer: “My God, if You exist, make me know You. »
This awakening of the concealed hope of the poor of Israel that the psalms of the return from exile and from the Persian era express, already comes about under the secret urging of love. Soon Faith will appear, already formed, perfect, that is to say accompanied precisely by hope and charity: it had already germinated in the depths of the soul. This flower is going to appear all at once under the rays of the sun of grace, illustrating the word of St. Augustine: « You would not seek Me, had you not already found Me. »
Already he had found this God that he sought through the love that was so pure, so supernatural, so attentive, full of solicitude and compassionate, the love that his cousin Marie de Bondy showed and his aunt, Madame de Moitessier, who led him to Father Huvelin. There, it was like breaking the ice: suddenly, under the priestly hand, on 29 or 30 October 1886, Charles de Foucauld went to confession and received communion. He was twenty-eight years old, the age of Jesus when He descended into the waters of the Jordan to receive baptism from John. For Charles de Foucauld, it was a birth to life, like a new incarnation. With Jesus, he says to the Father: Ecce venio, ut faciam voluntatem tuam, « I am coming to do Your will, Lord. »
A new, divine life began.
UNDER THE MASTER
Let us not believe that the grace given to Charles de Foucauld at his baptism and regained at his conversion could have emancipated him from all moral law, from all ascetic life, from all obedience. Our Lord pointed out that He had not come to abolish even an iota of the Law but, on the contrary, to fulfil them, that is to say, to give a new principle of submission to this Law. This is why the Child Jesus, « born of a Woman, born under the law », as St. Paul says, learned the Law of Moses, strengthened himself in its practice with love, veneration and submission to Joseph and Mary.
« He became a child, wrote Joseph Ratzinger. What does it mean to be a child? First, it means: submission, dependence, to be in need, to leave matters in the hands of others. As a child, Jesus does not come only from God, but also from other men. He was born in the womb of a Woman from whom He received flesh and blood, the beating of the heart, a mode of behaviour and language. He received life from the life of another person.
To have drawn from other beings what is proper to Him is nothing purely biological. It means that Jesus also received the forms of thought and conceptions of the men who existed before Him and finally from His Mother, and that His human soul was imbued with it. This means that, with the legacy of His ancestors, He followed the entire path that had been traversed up to then and that goes back from Mary to Abraham and finally to Adam. He took upon Himself the weight of this history, He lived and endured it in order to transform all the refusals, all the deviations into the purest yes: “ For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was not yes and no; but in Him it is always yes ” (2 Co 1.19) » (op. cit., pp. 70-71)
Georges de Nantes did not teach us otherwise in the community retreat quoted above:
« It was essential for our Catholic Faith that Jesus be first the submissive, obedient, silent Child of Nazareth. Thus, He entered truly into the very holy, human and religious “tradition” of humanity where one day, He would transfigure all. In the same way, it was necessary that Charles de Foucauld learn and submit himself to the men of the Church whom he would undoubtedly surpass, but by the very virtue of his initial fervour, of his original vocation. »
« This submission would bear witness that his vocation was not going contrary to, but beyond. Father de Foucauld is not a revolutionary, any more than was Christ. His vocation did not take shape against the Cistercian rule, as it has sometimes been said, but through the Cistercian rule, beyond it; and the Cistercians are the first to say so without acrimony because they know all his esteem for this Rule. »
When converted, Charles de Foucauld, like the Child Jesus, thought only of submitting himself:
« Everyone knows that the first effect of love is imitation; thus what remained was to enter into the Order where I would find the most exact imitation of Jesus. » (to Henri de Castries, 14 August 1901)
He began by offering the greatest possible sacrifice by going very far away from his family to live and to die. On 15 January 1890, at the age of thirty-two, he left for Notre-Dame des Neiges, where he arrived the following day. Ten days later he took the habit and received the name of the second founder of Cîteaux, Albéric. Charles de Foucauld became Brother Marie-Albéric. Then he left for Syria, where the Trappists of Notre-Dame des Neiges had founded in 1882 an abbey where they could take refuge if villainous laws should happen to force them to leave France. He remained there until 1897, in obedience to his superiors, under the very austere and very perfect Rule of the Cistercians.
« Be happy with me, he wrote, for this new existence, an existence entirely of sacrifice in order to keep company with Him whose life on earth was nothing but sacrifices. » (To Madame de Bondy, 20 Septembre 1890)
It could be said of him as of the Child Jesus: « He grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon Him. » (Lk 2.40)
« I am constantly, absolutely constantly with Him and with those whom I love. Manual work does not inhibit meditation; it is a consolation by the resemblance with Our Lord, and a continual meditation. »
He recited the psalms, studied the catechism, read St. Bernard and Holy Scripture. As « Mary kept all these things, pondering them in Her Heart » (Lk 2.19), the superiors of Brother Marie-Albéric wondered what he would become: perhaps a new St. Bernard? « He was simple to perfection and placed himself in the lowest rank. Education is useful for everything, even for making oneself forgotten, even for going unnoticed », wrote René Bazin, who took note of a confidence of a monk of that time: « Brother Albéric never refused to do anyone a service; he was good like a second Francis of Assisi! »
The Father Abbot of Akbès used to say: « Our Brother Albéric seems to be an angel in our midst. »
THE PAINS OF SECOND BIRTH
Jesus was greater than Joseph and Mary. One day He would free Himself from their law. Or rather: He would still submit to them, but in a more lofty light. This is the profound explanation of Jesus remaining at Jerusalem at the age of twelve, and of the sorrowful revelation that He had to make to His holy Parents, of a superior consecration to the Father for the new Gospel: « Did you not know that I must be in the house of My Father? »
Such is the evangelical event that thrusts itself into the mind on hearing the story of Brother Alberic’s long meditations, the opening of his soul to his superiors, the repeated attempts, the interrogations, and the painful letters to Father Huvelin when the time came for his definitive commitment by taking solemn vows in the Order of Cîteaux.
In a heroic act of obedience to the decision of his Father General, leaving it entirely up to him after opening his soul to him, he was released from his vows on 23 January 1897, and could respond to his personal vocation.
He carefully notes that it was on the day of the engagement of St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin, on the vigil of the feast of the Holy Family.
THE FULLNESS OF NAZARETH
The good and humble Charles de Foucauld was free to go to Jesus, without following any rule other than the Gospel. He was free to seek the hidden life close to Jesus, huddled right next to Him, at the feet of St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin, as he liked to say. He threw himself with the ardour of a neophyte into this new vocation of love, adoration, silence, manual work, and abjection. It would never be enough; he would always go further in this cult of the presence of the Beloved.
His devotion to the Sacred Heart then found all liberty to express itself, to pour forth, to fill all his life. He loved Him who had loved him so much; he sought to resemble Him and to please Him. Since this Jesus is there, close to him in the Eucharist, he burned in His presence, as it were, day and night in a sweet conversation.
This is truly the hidden life in God, the hidden life of Nazareth, in the intimacy of the Holy Family. At the same time an idea guided him: to make this condition of poor man and friend of all that had been Jesus of Nazareth’s live again, a condition that he sought in vain in the Church of Leo XIII.
Let us stop a moment. Let us see this blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, Her spouse, in their house of Nazareth, while they await the birth of Jesus, or a little later, and let us silently admire them with Charles de Foucauld. To speak as Benedict XVI does, it is there that the « roots » of the Church are found, « hidden in the atmosphere of Nazareth ».
This is precisely the intuition of Charles de Foucauld seeking perfect resemblance with this poverty, this smallness, this abjection – and not as La Croix translates it, this “debasement”! No! but it is useless to enter into a debate. As our Father used to say to us, if we seek with Charles de Foucauld the perfect resemblance of the life of Nazareth with this poverty, this smallness, this abjection, but also with this delicacy, this tender fervour, this modesty, this honesty of the righteous that we encounter there, then all polemics ceases. All is resolved in simplicity if we become attached with admiration to this marvel of humanity and holiness that blossomed at that time at Nazareth, at Aïn Karim and elsewhere like wild flowers. Thus our hearts are purged of the venom of progressivist pride according to which what is new is better and what is old is false and unsuitable.
« Yet it was before the golden age of patristics, our Father observed, before the development of Benedictine monasticism, before our marvellous thirteenth century, before humanist refinement, before the reawakening of classical reasoning and sciences, well before our “modern world”, our new spiritualities and our apostolate. »
« We admire so much the product of our civilisation! Let it be known that before this civilisation, which moreover is Christian, there was already the perfection of perfections in a humble village of Galilee. »
« It had not read the Fables of La Fontaine, it had not learned Gregorian liturgical chant, and it knew nothing of what came afterwards. »
Our Father then compared « these wild lilies », Jesus, Mary and Joseph to the humanity described in the poems of Homer, witnesses to such rare refinement, to such politeness, to such discretion already admirable but without comparison to what we contemplate at Nazareth, which has supernatural perfection.
It was before us, before the centuries of our era: « Ab initio et ante sæcula creata sum... », says Mary in the liturgy. « From eternity, in the beginning He created Me. » The Virgin is therefore at the beginning of all, in a transcendent perfection, before those who surround Her, St. Joseph, the Apostles, before those who participated in their perfection, a perfection already formed by the Holy Spirit throughout the Old Testament, from generation to generation.
We must therefore turn back this arrow of irreversible progress, return to a former time, further back than the French Ancien Régime of the Middle Ages, in order to find the perfection before which we kneel with Brother Charles of Jesus. Thus the Virgin is Nikephoros, the bringer of victory; She crushes the head of the Serpent; She is victorious over progressivism. Who is victorious over this present irresistible world-wide ideology? This little flower that appeared in the garden of Galilee, whose incomparable fragrance fills the world with its sweetness, and draws to the Miraculous Medal chapel at rue du Bac, Paris, 5,000 to 6,000 pilgrims per day! Her fragrance disperses all the miasmas of the modern world.
Whoever loves Mary cannot believe in the proud illusions of necessary, irresistible and unilinear human progress. Brother Charles of Jesus understood it. The idea that guided him was to make this condition of child of Mary live again in that of poor man and friend of all, of « universal brother » that had been Jesus of Nazareth’s. « I work for You, o Jesus, before You, with You, among You, Mary and Joseph, without ceasing to look at You, to contemplate You, to adore You. »
God does not change, men do not change and perfect creatures are not in the biological or sociological future of the cosmos, but in the fullness of the evangelical times, in the past!
II. THE SALVATION OF SOULS
« You are charged to proclaim the Gospel from the rooftops, not by your words, but by your life. » His was a life of adoration and love of Jesus at Beni-Abbès, where he arrived on 28 October 1901. He was welcomed by Captain Regnault, who commanded the Region, in company with his officers. All attended the first Mass that he celebrated on 1 November.
What had brought him there? our Father wondered in the “founding” retreat in 1964, our first community retreat at Maison Saint-Joseph, one year after our installation. It is once again and always, imitation of Jesus but in his priesthood. It is an imitation that undoubtedly tears Brother Charles from smallness, from abjection, but where Jesus is more and more Saviour. After the hidden life of Nazareth, the Heart of Christ entirely reveals itself in the institution of the Eucharist, in the Cross and in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
When he left the Trappist monastery, Charles de Foucauld had fled the priesthood and the responsibilities for which his superiors destined him. He wanted to be nothing, nothing but infinite lowliness, abjection in the likeness of Jesus of Nazareth, leaving full freedom of action to an infinite perfection of love of God that runs over into almost perpetual adoration, into the humblest manual labour, into an absolutely heroic poverty. Priesthood was far from his thoughts.
At the hour of God, however, for all the obstacles to immediately vanish he only had to think that Jesus had been a priest and that imitation of Jesus must be more perfect when one is a priest oneself. He then though that it would be more perfect and that it would be a more important work to be a priest in order to give salvation to souls: he wanted « to cooperate in salvation through the offering of the Holy Sacrifice and the practice of Gospel virtues. »
The Rule of the Hermits of the Sacred Heart that he wrote then, marked, as it were, his entry into the active life of Gospel labourers, as he would say. But please notice! It was not like the entry of Jesus into public life, no! It was Jesus Himself who was going to enter into public life through the very effective, very unknown, ministry of Charles de Foucauld. It was Jesus the priest who was going to act through the hands of His most humble minister; and this minister was going to content himself with living in the background, with being simply the unknown and humble instrument of this mysterious work of sacrifice and shining forth of Jesus. It is the public life of Jesus, but in the hidden life of his servant. For a long time still he remains in solitude at Beni-Abbès, giving himself over to contemplation at the feet of Jesus. He is a priest in order to allow Jesus to fulfil His royal priesthood and to shine forth over these infidel lands, over these most abandoned lands, by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, by His Presence in the tabernacle...
We are far from Brother Xavier Habig, who is supposed to have succeeded him today at Beni-Abbès, and who declares: « We are welcomed into the liturgy of Islam, and there is a deep communion. It is incredible what I receive from them. It is they who evangelise us. » (La Croix, 28 July 2005)
Thus Charles de Foucauld was carried off as well in this thirst for the salvation of the souls that he sees in the Heart of Jesus and that passes into his heart: « The salvation of souls that is our life here below as it was the life of Jesus “Saviour”. » (to Bishop Guérin, 30 June 1903)
He underlined the word Saviour, exposing that the life of Jesus was the salvation of lost souls, and he was going to strive to imitate Jesus in this as well.
First, since he wanted to make Jesus reign in His Eucharist, he himself had to make charity, meekness, universal devotedness and the compassion of Jesus appear in his whole life. He succeeded so well that the crowds came as in the Gospel. Very quickly the chapel, the cells and the infirmary that the soldiers had built for him with sun dried clay bricks were invaded. It was not a hermitage: it was a beehive, dubbed “the fraternity” by the occupants. « I have between sixty and a hundred visits per day », he wrote. Beggars, the sick, slaves. He wanted to be the priest who says the Mass, who exposes the Blessed Sacrament and then disappears among the faithful as an adorer at His feet, but his cloister was transformed into a public square. All human miseries came to him. While Jesus remained silent, mysteriously radiating in the Holy Eucharist, he, His hidden instrument, but also His priest, His living representative, had to speak in the name of Jesus, had to be the charity of Jesus, the boundless devotedness of Jesus.
Imperceptibly, the servant would be absorbed by this demand and this self-sacrifice. He wanted to give Jesus; he found himself pressed to give himself, and this would not be bereft of conflict: he thought that he was too occupied, too engaged in fraternal charity. It is this, however, that prevailed. In consequence, he himself became a saviour, in imitation of Jesus, and the Eucharistic Mystery, instead of being primarily that of worship, became that of his own life, offered, immolated, given to all out of love.
Little by little, he was placed in the activities of the apostolic life, as the Apostles were during the public life of the Lord, and finally there he was « dropped into the Hoggar » by Laperrine. He left Beni-Abbès on 3 May 1905 and, after three months of walking, he wrote:
« I chose Tamanrasset, a village of twenty-two homes in the mountains, in the heart of the Hoggar, away from all the important centres. It seems that it will never have a garrison, nor a telegraph, nor Europeans and that, for a long time to come, there will not be a mission. I am selling my camels, building a hut, and placing the Most Holy Sacrament in it. I will build a very small house, two two-metre square rooms, the one being the chapel, the other the cell. »
He had a garden and goats, and was assisted by the Touareg. Despite the insecurity of the region that had recently come under French domination, he made visits in the villages and the surrounding encampments.
For a long time these two words seemed contradictory to him. He said so in 1905, the year of his settling in Tamanrasset, and again in 1907, trying to reason with himself: « I am a monk, not a missionary, made for silence, not for speaking. » Nevertheless, the ministry of a silent Jesus the Host pressed him to speak for Him and thus to relive the evangelical life of Jesus. Instead of only carrying Jesus in the Host, he would be along with Him a victim offered, immolated and given; he thus came to the stage of being « another Christ ».
One day or other, by dint of celebrating the Holy Mysteries, the priest and the consecrated souls that attend with love and attachment to Our Lord find themselves called to imitate what they do: « Imitamini quod tractatis ». We see this recommendation that the bishop made on the day of his ordination to the priesthood impose itself on Father de Foucauld from the exterior through circumstances, the demands of his superiors, the call of souls, and then, interiorly through the call of the Charity of Christ. He was all hesitation, but the Holy Spirit pressed him.
He wrote: « I see all that is not simple adoration of the Beloved so equal to zero that I am stunned as soon as I leave the foot of the Tabernacle. » (to Father Huvelin, 10 June 1903)
He did not have the slightest esteem for himself or for his apostolic worth. He had but one thought: to return to Beni-Abbès or, when he was at Tamanrasset, to flee into a solitude to be at the feet of Jesus, in order that Jesus alone be apostle and missionary through his hands.
At the same time, however, a letter to Bishop Guérin gives a glimpse of the apostolic flame that devours him:
« I am totally wretched, yet it is in vain that I seek within myself, I find no other desire than this one: Adveniat regnum tuum!... Sanctificetur Nomen tuum! You ask if I am ready to go elsewhere than Beni-Abbès for the extension of the holy Gospel: For that, I am ready to go to the end of the earth and to live until the last Judgement. »
What a contrast this is! The same opposition reigned in the Heart of Jesus, spending nights in prayer, absorbed in His contemplation and union with God His Father. Yet the Will of God itself pressed Him to act and brought Him back to His public life. So it was for Charles of Jesus, from 1903, the year in which he chose to forge ahead deep into the desert, even at the price of what was most painful to his soul consumed with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, that of losing the delight of the Presence at the feet of the Beloved in solitude and silence; even at the cost of Mass and Communion.
He had consented to being a priest because there was nothing more effective for the salvation of souls than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Now he was pushed forward by the Holy Spirit, invited to walk into the depths of Targui land, where he could not celebrate Mass for want of an acolyte. And he put the Sacrifice of Jesus above all! Nevertheless, the need of souls commanded. Without ceasing to consider himself less than nothing, without for one second thinking that his action was worth more than the redemptive action of Christ at Mass, he entered into the fullness of missionary life: « Obedience is the measure of love », he wrote. Not only obedience, but difficulties, sorrows, danger, death.
A thousand voices were calling him to this life as being a more perfect imitation of Jesus. At the call of love, he went forth. At Tamanrasset, he worked relentlessly to establish a French – Touareg dictionary, to collect and translate poems. He lived abstemiously, wanted to be « small and approachable », so small, so poor that he ate very poorly, did not take care of himself and, struck with scurvy, he was close to death several times.
Nevertheless, this missionary life, so set in humility, so dependant on adoration, contemplation and the care of Jesus the Eucharist, was wholly charismatic. It was not a function, but an infused grace, a pure replacement of the holy Humanity of Christ and of His Eucharist. Brother Charles wanted only one thing: to disappear, to be nothing, to act in no way in order that Jesus might act. Jesus did act... by pressing him to carry the Gospel of salvation to his neighbour. « It is the mystic priesthood of the faithful soul who offers himself and who offers Jesus to all the intentions of the divine Saviour [...] and who, like Jesus, makes the salvation of men the work of his lifetime. » (to Joseph Hours, 1 October 1916)
He accepted this missionary vocation as a cross: « To take the narrow path, the cross of Jesus of Nazareth », he wrote.
« To let live within me the Heart of Jesus, so that it not be I who live, but the Heart of Jesus who lives in me, as he lived in Nazareth. » (to Bishop Guérin, 2 July 1907)
« To read and re-read unceasingly the holy Gospel so as to always have in mind the acts, the words, the thoughts of Jesus, in order to think, speak, act as Jesus did. » (to Joseph Hours, 3 May 1912)
Thus, first lost in presence of Jesus, then a very humble minister of the sovereign Priest and Victim, now Brother Charles attains the full co-redemptive communion and apostolic substitution for Jesus. It was for Him an additional humanity. It was the time of the Acts of the Apostles. He had gone beyond death, the Resurrection and the Ascension. At Tamanrasset, at Assekrem and in his long treks with the Touareg, in their midst, far from Jesus and without His Eucharistic presence, in the perfect independence that the Apostles had experienced after the departure of Jesus. He was beyond the death, the Resurrection and the Ascension. When Jesus had ascended into Heaven, the Apostles did not find themselves left to their own devices, but full of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, to act like Jesus, to do what Jesus would have done, to speak in His Name.
In the last years of his life Father de Foucauld ended up in this time of the Apostles. Even the preoccupation over his own sacrifice diminished before this single thought of doing the will of the Beloved, of being one will with the Beloved, of being only an instrument of His redemptive Humanity linked to His divinity. Then, what holiness there was!
He was almost “laicised” one could say! There is some truth in this: to speak, to love, to devote oneself, to sacrifice oneself entirely, to be consumed each day like the Jesus of the Gospel. We are beyond the rites; it seems as though we have surpassed them because there was a sort of new incarnation of Christ in perfect holiness, where the heart of the apostle was but one with the Heart of Christ. The being of the apostle was entirely sacrificed, entirely immolated, already risen with Jesus Christ: Una cum Christo hostia, cor unum, « one host, one heart with Christ »
The apostolate of Father de Foucauld was the apostolate of a saint who had already died and resurrected with Jesus Christ, having gone through all the stages: that of renunciation and submission to the “master”, then that of the sweetness of the hidden life, savoured for what it is, forgetting oneself and forgetting all for the sake of the Beloved, and finally that of the priesthood and missionary life culminating in one’s complete self-immolation. That was the programme he presented us in his Rule for the little brothers of the Sacred Heart.
« May the little brothers think each day that one of the blessings with which their Bridegroom Jesus has filled them is the possibility, the well-founded hope, to complete their life by martyrdom: may they unceasingly prepare themselves for this blessed outcome; may they act at each moment in a manner befitting souls called by the goodness of the Bridegroom, to receive – soon perhaps – this infinite favour... May they aspire through their desires and their prayers, to the blessed moment when they will give their Beloved this “ mark of the greatest love”; may they be worthy of such a vocation at every hour. »
To attain this, Charles de Foucauld shows us the way. Right from the beginning, he sought « the greatest sacrifice possible », for « sacrifice is only the supreme proof of love » (MEDITATIONS ON THE HOLY GOSPEL, at Nazareth, on Mt 2.11). Therefore, by embracing the Cistercian life, what he sought was to bear the cross, to remain attached to it as long as it would please Our Lord... Thus, to suffer every day, mortify himself, renounce himself for the sake of God.
It was at Akbès, in 1895, that the desire for martyrdom took hold of him. He saw Christians being tortured all around their isolated monastery, and he could anticipate that one day their turn would come. His heart was enkindled at this thought, as can be seen in his correspondence. The French, however, were guarded by Turkish soldiers, while the Turks were slaughtering the Armenians: « It is painful to be on such good terms with those who are slaughtering our brothers. It would be better to suffer with them than to be protected by the persecutors. » (24 June 1896)
MYSTICAL CONCLUSION: Brother Marie-Albéric considered that he did not obtain the grace of martyrdom because he was unworthy of it.
PRACTICAL CONCLUSION: if he did not want to avoid missing the next opportunity, he would have to be humbler, poorer, more true to Jesus because when you are well-known and respected, the persecutors come to protect you to prevent diplomatic incidents!
That is why he left the Trappist monastery, to seek in Nazareth a humble, poor, unknown and despised life, more in accordance with Jesus, as we have said, and thus to have a better chance of being a martyr.
It is from the time of Nazareth that this famous prophetic note dates: « Your thought on death.
« Think that you must die a martyr, stripped of everything, stretched out on the ground, naked, unrecognisable, covered in blood and wounds, violently and painfully killed... And desire that it be today... If I am to give you this infinite grace, be faithful in keeping watch and carrying the Cross. Consider that your whole life must end in this death: and in that light see how unimportant so many things are. Think often of this death in order to prepare yourself for it and in order to judge things at their true worth. » (June 1897)
« What I find remarkable in this text, our Father said to us, is that death then appears to him to be the outcome of a distant quest; one must prepare oneself for it. Martyrdom is the greatest proof of love that can be given to Jesus, after a life entirely devoted to His service. One must prepare it; get ready for it by carrying one’s cross every day. »
His orientation towards priesthood increased this desire even more by justifying it with a new reason: the sacrifice of the priest, victim «... with Jesus, agony, passion and death, to the extent that it will please Jesus to call him to partake of his chalice and to be a victim like Him. » (retreat for the diaconate, 23 March 1901)
At Beni-Abbès, this wish for martyrdom took a new orientation: until then, Brother Charles de Jesus had considered it as a proof of the love given to his Beloved. Through his contact with the poorest, the most underprivileged of the heathen, whom he loved with the charity of the Heart of Jesus, he desired martyrdom in order to prove to them that our religion is a religion of love:
« With all my strength, I try to show, to prove to these poor lost brothers that our religion is all charity, all brotherhood, that its emblem is a heart. » (to Father Huvelin, 15 July 1904)
Among them, he no longer wanted to be anything more than a heart, but this heart was surmounted by a cross. From then on, Charles of Jesus was going to desire conformity with Jesus in the daily martyrdom of love of this difficult, severe life, in which he nearly died from a snake bite, in which he was gravely ill, abandoned by all, in which he converted no one, and in which, after twenty years of apostolic labour, he saw no fruit ripen. Into this self-effacement accepted by love, he forged ahead, more and always more dispossessed of himself. He no longer even had the precise desire of martyrdom. He lived it daily, putting all his heart into this complete and heroic gift of himself. We might dare to say, with St. Jean of the Cross, that his life was lengthened as was that of the Virgin, for the good of the Church more than for himself, because love and sacrifice are at their height:
« I cannot say that I wish for death; at other times I would have looked forward to it. Now that I can see all the good that needs to be done and all the souls without a pastor, I would very much like to do some good and to work a little for the salvation of these poor souls: but the good God loves them more than I do, and he has no need of me. May His will be done! » (to Madame de Bondy, 20 July 1914) »
« We are inclined to give the highest ranking to the works of which the effects are visible and tangible; God gives first rank to love and then to sacrifice inspired by love and to obedience that derives from love. One must love and obey out of love while offering oneself as a victim with Jesus in the way that pleases Him! It is up to Him to make known whether He desires for us the life of St. Paul or of St. Magdalene. »(to Madame de Bondy, 20 May 1915)
There is no longer any condition or any imagination, not even supernatural, but only the blind, perfect gift to the desires of the Beloved.
On 1 December 1916, the dawn of the long desired day broke, but he was unaware of it. He no longer desired anything. He had just finished writing: « Our self-effacement is the most powerful means we have of uniting ourselves to Jesus and of doing good to souls. »
A few moments later, Charles de Foucauld would be a martyr, like Jesus, being one Host, one Heart with Him for the salvation of his brothers.
CONCLUSION : A MYSTERY OF INCARNATION
« The little brothers of the Sacred Heart will all love one another like the members of the same family, the Church. They will not compare nor oppose their Order to any other community. Only one exists for their hearts, the one that contains them all: the Catholic Church. »
I would not like to contravene this twenty-eighth article of our holy Rule, but I am seeking what separates us so irremediably from this loose conglomeration of ten religious congregations and other associations of spiritual life that claim to be officially recognised followers of Father de Foucauld.
It seems to me that it lies in an error on the mystery of the Incarnation, against which our Father and Founder, Father de Nantes, has put us on our guard since our foundation because he discerned it very early in Fr. Peyriguères, whom he met at Montpellier, on the eve of our foundation in 1957. A hermit in Morocco among the Berbers, with a few Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Father de Foucauld, known as those “from Montpellier”, who helped him run his dispensary, this priest was violently anti-French. He wanted to be incorporated into the Berbers, as a new incarnation, in order that the supernatural life that was in him would pour out over them, even without them being aware of it, through a Communion of saints of a new kind. He claimed, in this way, to imitate Christ who became man in order to save all men, only forgetting that « God became man so that man be made God ». Having assumed flesh like our own from the womb of the Virgin Mary, having condescended to become one of us, Jesus founded His Church after having redeemed us through His Blood.
Thus, He only assumed our flesh in order to transform the carnal body of Adamic humanity into a mystical Body, His Church, giving it a divine, supernatural and Christic form. In contrast, like Fr. Peyriquères in the past, Fr. Emmanuel Kalmongo, the first native priest of Burkina-Faso, where « he founded five years ago, at Honda, the first foucauldian monastery of Jesus the Saviour », says today that he was attracted by the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld, understood as being « the desire to establish Jesus the Eucharist among the populations of another religion ».
It is no longer a question of salvation for these poor souls, nor of conversion to attain it and going to Heaven rather than Hell. We are far from the Father de Foucauld who entered the Sahara in order to civilise its barely submissive populations, prepared their evangelisation properly so called that was to follow, and marched towards martyrdom.
The time when « Charles de Foucauld dreamed of evangelising those whom he called, without condescension, the “ infidels” » is definitively over (La Croix, 28 July 2005). Today, « a few tourists, mainly Algerians, visit the chapel of Beni-Abbès. They sometimes leave messages in the golden book, left at their disposition, that reveal the message of the “ universal brother” », according to La Croix:
« We wish that your Church will remain one of the sister religions with our religion that is Islam. May God protect us all. » Signed: a group of the Algerian Federation of Youth Hostels...
« Your religion is respected, but mine is the best: the God, the prophet Mohamed. » Signed: Lamira.
« All chapels, all churches, all synagogues, all mosques, everywhere are the house of God. » Malika.
It is a strange blindness to see therein the expression of the « message of the “ universal brother” ». There must be an error somewhere, our Father observes: either in Father de Foucauld, who was dedicated to the conversion of the infidels, without quotation marks, to the point of undergoing martyrdom, or among his alleged disciples who are dedicated to the cult of man whose tenets preach complete freedom from dogma and morality. » By raising Father de Foucauld to the glory of the altars, Benedict XVI settles the question: the error does not lie with the Servant of God, Charles de Foucauld. It therefore lies with his “disciples”. In actual fact, this error was spread throughout the entire Church by the conciliar constitution Gaudium et Spes, according to which « by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man » (G. S. 22.2). May a vigorous Catholic Counter-Reformation cure us sof this and we will be able to set off again, all reconciled, for the conquest of souls.
Brother Bruno of Jesus.
He is risen ! n° 38, october 2005